The National Park Service campaign to encourage people to find their park is working; if not working maybe too well. Visitation to many of the parks has steadily increased over the last few years. As someone who loves the idea of the National Park Service (NPS) and what it shares I think its a good thing. It’s hard to support or take care of something that doesn’t have meaning to you.
With an increase of visitors its been keeping me busy; I’ve enjoyed it. The connections people have been making, the memories they are creating, and the support for the parks has been overwhelming. The high I get from this at work almost crashes immediately at the end of the day; when all I can do is eat and go to sleep. There are people who already support the parks and let me be a part of their experience and love. Those are the good moments of having lots of visitors. Those are the moments that keep me going through the rough times.
Visitation is expected to grow for all parks this new year, and the NPS staff and resources levels continue to decline. It feels like whatever the NPS does, it just can’t keep up. Some parks are really struggling with be able to keep up with the long lines to get into the parks; not having enough people to staff the entrance stations or visitor centers. Not only is their a large number of visitors and not enough restrooms, there may not be enough maintenance staff to keep them clean. The number of car accidents and medical emergencies has the park rangers working in overdrive, not giving them the opportunity to decompress. Each division of park rangers is doing their best to assist each other in any way they can.
Already I have experienced the stress, the pull, of having not enough staff to handle the large number of visitors. In Yellowstone, there were many times when my main job of education was put to the side and I needed to instead focus on visitor/resource safety. “Excuse me for a moment folks, I need to ask these people to get back on the boardwalk.” “One moment, SIR, step back from that bison.” Instead of interacting with visitors and helping them connect with the park, I had to try to manage a large crowd of people, wildlife, and traffic. This winter at Mesa Verde the park staff was already overwhelmed by the large number of visitors to the Luminaria Holiday Open House. The love and support for the park could be seen by the large mass of people visiting, but we didn’t have enough transportation. Long lines formed and many visitors got upset with the staff, many of us who were suppose to go home hours ago, doing our best to get what every visitor needed.
Is it just the National Park Service Centennial that is bringing in more visitors? No, its all of us! The ones who already love the parks, a love so big that we like to share it with everyone. Look at me for example; I have this blog, a Facebook page, an Instagram account, a Twitter account, and a Vine account. All of these different platforms for me to share the love that I have for the parks. Its a place to share the beauty, the meaning, and more of each place I work at. We are inviting more and more people to find their park, but are we giving them the resources they need to care for their park? Are we teaching them why there are rules for things? Are we encouraging them to become better stewards?
Its time for everyone to become observant because there could be a start to an onslaught of resource damage. Some resource damage has already begun. Over the last couple years there has been an assault of negativity towards people posting images/videos of them doing something wrong in our federal lands. The case of individuals painting on natural resources and sharing it on social media. (Casey Nocket, Mr. Andre) When you read the comments that we post (yes we; nature-lovers, park-lovers, etc) they are filled with anger and judgement.
I am guilty of this as well. It’s human to get upset when we see people not taking care of something that we care for so much. It’s like someone being mean to your mom; there is an instinct in all of us to protect what we love.
I challenge us all this year to be more open. Let’s help each other learn how to properly take care of our National Parks. Let’s help each other understand why there are rules and ethics to visiting these places. Instead of commenting negatively; lets explain why we feel this way, why we need to work together so we don’t loose these places, and let’s be more open to those conversations.
While some parks have had visitation increases exponentially, the smaller parks have not. You may have already found your park, but do we really only need to have one? 🙂
Find more in your area. Challenge yourself and check out a place you wouldn’t normally go to; find a battlefield, a monument, lakeshore, or seashore and make it your park.
The article that made me want to write this post:
Record Visitation Strained Some National Parks This Year
Other articles on the sharing subject:
Why ‘Instagram Hikers’ Are National Parks Saviors and Scourges
Why The Creepytings National Park Vandalism Is A Big Deal
The National Park Service Is Watching Your Instagram